5 Must-Visit Shops in Vancouver’s Gastown Neighborhood

First image...
Nicole Bridger's woman's boutique.

Canadian Club

Creativity rules in Vancouver, British Columbia’s Gastown neighborhood.

Strolling Gastown and (below) whimsical finds at Secret Location.

By Tanvi Chheda
Photography by Grant Harder           
Clad in a gray cashmere scarf, chambray joggers, and a striped crewneck sweater, a woman steps into a boutique in Vancouver’s Gastown neighborhood. Slung over her shoulder is a messenger bag; on her feet, a pair of slip-on sneakers. She looks equal parts put together and relaxed – a combination that particularly agrees with Vancouver, given its surrounding natural beauty and creative energy.  
“Gastown has a charm like nowhere else in Vancouver,” notes Virtuoso travel advisor Carly Renshaw, who lives in the city. “It’s an edgy, out-of-the-box, creative neighborhood with historical significance. It has heritage buildings, cobblestoned streets, and old-fashioned lampposts, but also modern high-rises, young professionals, start-up media and tech companies, and hip local designers and boutiques.”  
Here, a list of design stops to hit on your next trip.
Expert Draper: Nicole Bridger
Designer Nicole Bridger outfitted her 1,000-square-foot eponymous boutique with oversize windows and reclaimed cedar walls, an apt backdrop for her sustainable, unfussy, and elegant women’s wear. Having learned to sew at 13 and with previous stints at local shoe designer John Fluevog as well as with Vivienne Westwood, Bridger has earned a loyal following for her organic cotton, silk, and Tencel pieces, almost all of which are cut and sewn in Vancouver. “I believe in buying fewer clothes, but having the pieces last and still be relevant in ten years,” Bridger says. “That to me is good design.” 14 Water Street.

Quality wares at Litchfield. 

Everyday Heirlooms: Litchfield
The common thread among the Japanese kitchen knives, brass incense holders, and apothecary items in Jonathon Litchfield’s industrial-minimalist boutique: quality. “When you use good tools, you do better work,” he says, “but you have to wait until you can afford the knife; then you have one or two or four, and you have all you need.” Pick up one of the store’s own brand of juniper and cedar candles before you leave. 38 Water Street.

Sporty style at Kit and Ace.

Technical Luxury: Kit and Ace
From the family behind Lululemon, Kit and Ace makes washable cashmere blends that work hard. “You can wear our pieces all day on the plane and go out to dinner straight from the airport,” says Shannon Wilson, who founded the label with her stepson. The pair applied their high expectations of athletic gear to luxury fabrics. Delicate cashmere from humanely raised Mongolian goats is woven with strong fibers such as elastane and viscose for easy-care T-shirts, sweaters, pants, and jackets that hold their shape. While the rapidly expanding company now has more than 60 stores worldwide, its original 3,000-square-foot Gastown boutique includes a rotating art wall featuring works from British Columbia artists. 151 Water Street.
High Concept: Secret Location
Housed in a former meatpacking warehouse, this 11,000-square-foot boutique-cum-restaurant feels like a French department store that’s amped up on surrealism and whimsy. Each piece on offer is a work of art, with extravagant handbags by Paula Cademartori, Maison Michel hats, shoes by Louis Leeman, and more – none of which are available elsewhere in Vancouver. Food imitates fashion in the lauded “tasting room,” which serves fantastically plated dishes such as kazu-cured halibut and 12-hour braised boar belly. 1 Water Street.
Gem Seeker: Cavalier
Although Dane Stevens’ family has been in the jewelry business for 45 years, they had never run a retail boutique until the 27-year-old opened Cavalier three years ago. Stevens travels the world in search of gemstones, distributing many of his treasures to regional stores. He keeps a fraction of his finds to set and polish into custom jewelry, which he showcases at this modern store with exposed brick and wood display tables. “Gastown was missing a jeweler, so it was a strategic move to open here,” he says. “The neighborhood is really transforming.” 207 W. Hastings Street.

Where to Stay
  • Close to the waterfront, the sleek 377-room Fairmont Pacific Rim has a robust international art collection and on-site restaurant, Oru, with an extensive floor-to-ceiling wine cellar. 
  • If the walls at Rosewood Hotel Georgia, the city’s most historic property, could talk, they’d tell stories of guests such as Nat King Cole, Marlene Dietrich, and Katharine Hepburn. The Vancouver Art Gallery is across the street, but the 156-room hotel is a gallery in its own right, with 200 commissioned pieces. 
Originally appeared in the July 2016 issue of Virtuoso Life.